Every so often I’ll start reading a book, and I can’t quite find a rhythm with it. It’s clear it’s a good book, one that I’d enjoy if I weren’t so grumpy that day, or if I had more time to just binge on it, or some other something. This is different from a book I just don’t enjoy; those books I put in a bag, unfinished, to donate to our library, or swap for credit at Powell’s. Those books never get read again.
But the former sort of book— Well, it’s not that book’s fault I’m not getting into it. It’s mine. It’s all me. Those books I set aside for some later date, when I’m in a better position to appreciate them, or when I’m more primed for whatever the book wants to tell me.
Such was the case with Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being, which I first tried to read a few years ago. I managed forty pages before I put the book aside, confident it was exactly the kind of book that I would love, but which I wasn’t in the right headspace to appreciate at the moment. The book sat there on my shelf, waiting for me.
Generally, when I’m in the midst of writing or revising a draft of a book, I find myself reading less challenging novels, or nonfiction. Genre books work really well for me during those stretches; a good mystery will keep me connected to books that aren’t mine while not necessarily holding itself up as something I need to measure my current project against. I don’t really write mysteries, see, and a mystery novel is wildly different from the kind of things I do write.
But for whatever reason, Time Being was there, and I saw it, and I picked it up. My goal was simple: Read further than last time. And I’ve done that, and the book’s firing on all cylinders for me now. So that’s good: I’m in the right place to appreciate the book. That’s all that matters.
Except it also turns out it’s exactly the right time for this book—no pun intended—because Ozeki’s careful character construction, and the otherworldly exchange of timelines and narratives, zeroed in on that part of me that is revising a book, and not only revising, but trying to fix. My first drafts, see, are often full of everything, including the kitchen sink: there are too many themes, too many arcs, etc. It’s not until later drafts, when I’ve carved away the extra stuff, that I begin to understand just what the hell I’ve been trying to write.
And Time Being just sings. Sings in all the ways that I hoped my writing could. Reading it now, at this exact moment, is like an invisible push from someone who knows you’re capable of better, that you can solve the problems you’re trying to. I don’t know Ruth Ozeki, but that’s not the point. Sometimes books talk to each other. Sometimes writers do, without one of them knowing it.
Right time, right place. Right book.
Also, a very good one. You should read it.